Surf’s up

Jarrod Valliere / The San Diego Union-Tribune/TNSSOLANA BEACH, CA - JANUARY 11: Members of the San Dieguito Newcomers Boogie-Boarding Group, (left to right) Ginny Van Meter, Loraine Vaught, Pam Shetler and Kim Lubesnick meet on Mondays in Solana Beach, CA.

The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO (TNS) – In the early 1970s, the Boogie Board was born. So was Charlotte Gumbrell’s love for riding the waves on the popular foam body boards. Fifty years later, Gumbrell is still at it, as the oldest member of the Newcomers Club of San Dieguito’s Boogie Board club.

Gumbrell, 95, is among a group of about two dozen women who meet up to three times a week for board surfing sessions at North County beaches. Most of the women who regularly gather at Fletcher Cove in Solana Beach and Moonlight Beach in Encinitas are in their 70s and 80s, though there are a handful of women in their late 40s and 50s, as well as a couple of husbands and the occasional grandchild. Gumbrell said Boogie Boarding is a great sport to grow old with.

“I always feel better with my brain when I go Boogie Boarding. I’m sure it helps,” said Gumbrell, a Del Mar resident. “Every year I say this is going to be my last year out there, but then I just keep going. If I can get out there, I’m always so happy I did.”

At noon Monday, about 20 members of the group arrived for a spirited session of rides on 6- to 8-foot waves at Fletcher Cove. For safety’s sake, they surfed together in a socially distanced pod within about 200 feet of the shoreline and directly in front of the lifeguard tower. Whenever a member would catch a wave, the others whooped with joy. And as they rode into shore flat on their bellies, there was always at least one member standing nearby to help get them up on their feet.

“We call it turtling,” said Ginny Van Meter of Solana Beach. “That’s the hardest part of it all. Your knees aren’t as good as they used to be, so standing back up takes a lot of work.”

Solana Beach resident Fran Dyer coordinates the outings for the Boogie Board group, which formed about six year ago. It’s one of more than 30 social groups organized under the umbrella of the 350-member Newcomers Club of San Dieguito. Because of the pandemic, most of these groups have not been able to meet for the past 10 months, but the Boogie Boarders have been able to carry on because they’re outdoors.

Member Christa Stahl, 85, of Solana Beach, said she spoke with her doctor about the danger of COVID-19 while out Boogie Boarding and he gave her the all-clear, saying as long as they stayed 6 feet apart they should be safe.

The women’s group has become a bit of a media sensation in recent years. In 2016, they put out a photo calendar called the Boogie Babes. And in April 2018, a photo of four members at the beach with their Boogie Boards was featured on the cover of Parade magazine, accompanying a story about healthy aging.

Solana Beach resident Patti Fitchen, who turns 78 next month, said Boogie Boarding is a great way to stay in shape.

‘It’s terrific for your thighs. You have to walk out against the surf in deep water and that’s no easy task,” said Fitchen, who is a past president of the Newcomers Club. “It’s exhilarating melding your body with the movement of the waves. That joy is priceless.”

Member Pam Shetler of Carlsbad joined the group when it started about six years ago. She had body-surfed in her younger years and relished coming back to the sport in a more social way that has introduced her to many new like-minded friends.

“I never go out on my own. I find safety and company in the others. That’s what makes it fun,” Shetler said.

Among the other club members who joined Shetler at Fletcher Cove on Monday were Kim Lubesnick, Nancy Schweizer, Judy Brent, Carol German, Jackie Zucker, Louise Godici, Colleen Powell, Nazlin Kassamali, Sharon Marr and Loraine Vaught.

Although it was sunny and the temperature was in the mid-60s, the water temperature on Monday was about 58 degrees, so all of the club members wore wetsuits. And some stayed in the water only about 30 minutes to avoid getting too chilled. Many of the older members like Gumbrell tend to stay home in the coldest winter months and return when the water warms in the spring and summer.

German, a Del Mar resident who has been a Newcomers Club member for nearly 15 years, said she most enjoys the camaraderie she’s found among her fellow Boogie Boarders. She said these women are serious about staying in shape in their older age, but not as serious about their surfing form.

“We have so much fun out there,” German said. “If somebody catches a wave, everybody laughs and celebrates.”

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